U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says he is "encouraged" by reports
that a shaky cease-fire between government troops and rebels in Syria
seems to be holding, despite scattered violence.
In a briefing on Syria to the U.N. Security Council Thursday, Annan
urged the Syrian government to take further steps by removing troops and
heavy weapons from major population centers.
The cease-fire is being watched closely by skeptical Western envoys and
Syrian opposition groups who are weighing President Bashar al-Assad's
good faith in observing the peace plan brokered by Annan.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said the international community must be united
if it is going to keep Syria from descending into "chaos." At a news
conference in Geneva, he said he hopes to send observers to the country
"This cease-fire process is very fragile," said Ban. "It may be broken
at any time if and when there is another gunshot, even a small gunshot
may give both sides some protection to engage in another fighting. This
is very worrisome. Therefore it is important for all the friends of all
the players of the international community to influence them, to advise
them sincerely to keep their promises."
Ban said the onus is on the Syrian government for the cease-fire to hold
but he also urged the opposition to “sustain the cessation of violence
in all its forms.”
Scattered violence reported
Activists reported a few deaths Thursday and dozens of arrests, but the
nascent truce appeared to largely be holding.
Syrian state media say "armed terrorists" bombed a military bus in the
city of Aleppo, killing one soldier and wounding 24 officers and cadets.
Rights activists said Syrian forces killed at least three civilians.
They say the violence took place in areas including the protest hubs of
Homs and Hama.
Opposition groups also said Syrian troops remain deployed in flashpoint
cities and are on high alert.
Opposition leaders called for demonstrations to test the resolve of the
government to abide by the cease-fire.
Syrian opposition activists say while they support his efforts, they do
not believe the plan will ultimately succeed.
“We wanted to give them a little time despite the fact that so many
people are dying on the ground and in the streets that it is necessary
to give the international community some time to find out if diplomacy
is not going to work,” said activist Ammar Abdulhamid in Washington.
Ban said the U.N. is working to send a small monitoring mission from its
peacekeeping department to Syria. He said it could deploy quickly once
it is approved by the Security Council.
Security Council member Russia, which has blocked some previous action
on Syria in the past months, looked ready to approve an observer force.
Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a Group of 8 meeting in Washington on
Wednesday that it is “vitally important” the observers are present in
Syria. He said he would ask the secretary-general to speed up his
decision on the format and size of the force so the Security Council
could approve its mandate.
Timor Goksel, a former spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, said
Russia is pushing the Syrian government to halt attacks on the
"I'm optimistic because clearly Syria is under pressure from Russia," he
said. "No doubt about it. How far, of course I don't know, but they're
under pressure and they're responding to it by agreeing to the
cease-fire and everything else.”
Syria's interior ministry urged refugees and those who were displaced
during months of fighting to return, claiming it would help pay for
damage to their homes. The ministry also urged citizens to lay down
their arms, promising an amnesty to all “except those with blood on